The mere thought of Iceland conjures up images of ice-capped volcanoes and vast glaciers. But beyond the nature of this northern destination lies another world of culture and cuisine just waiting to be discovered. Anthony Bourdain traveled here once and tried fermented shark – which was labeled “the most disgusting food he has ever tasted”. Don’t let that put you off though because Icelandic food is a pleasant surprise.
The gastronomy of Iceland is inspired by local produce and hearty ingredients without any preservatives or GMO’s. You are never far from fresh cod or tender lamb that falls off the bone. Those in need of a quick bite in Reykjavik can pick up an Icelandic hot dog, otherwise known as Pylsur. Various meats blended and topped with onions, ketchup, mustard and remoulade will keep you fueled and ready for your next activity.
The capital also boasts world-class restaurants where the fine dining competes with other Scandinavian cities like Copenhagen and Stockholm. All sorts of creations are served at these establishments if you have the budget for it. Or you can wander into a local eatery and enjoy traditional food for half the price. Even coffee connoisseurs will be catered for in Iceland as there are many amazing coffee houses dotted around the island.
Although food isn’t the primary reason people travel to The Land of Fire and Ice, it’s becoming a central part of the experience. More than just weird and wacky delicacies like fermented shark, the menu on offer is increasingly diverse and delicious. There is bound to be a dish or two that resonates with you. So in this article, we will be outlining the tastiest Icelandic food to try as well as giving tips on the best food tours to book.
Because sometimes the only way to immerse yourself in a new country is to pair up with locals who are passionate about revealing the secrets behind their culture. Icelanders are notoriously warm and welcoming folks – none more so than the expert tour guides at Your Friend In Reykjavik. As the name suggests, they act more as your friends rather than your guides and their team of friendly faces ensures a good time is guaranteed.
Icelandic Food: 5 Must-Try Dishes
1. The Icelandic Hotdog (Pylsur)
As soon as you touch down in Reykjavik, trying an Icelandic hotdog is a must. Head over to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for an introduction to Icelandic food. Make sure you order “one with everything” because hotdogs like these taste better with fried onions and an array of mouthwatering sauces like ketchup, mustard and remoulade. The meat itself is comprised of lamb, pork and beef. Opt for two hotdogs if you are feeling peckish.
2. Slow Roasted Lamb
Lamb is a popular dish due to the sheep in Iceland being some of the purest breeds on earth. It has a distinctive flavor – one which might not resemble anything you have tried back home. The sheep in Iceland graze on a natural diet made up of grass, sedge and berries. This gives the meat a lean and tender texture. Roasted lamb is often slow cooked with vegetables and topped with gravy. Other lamb dishes include racks and stews.
3. Hardfiskur (Dried Fish)
When visiting the coastlines you may come across rows of fish being hung out to dry on wooden structures. This is called Hardfiskur (“hard fish” in English) and it’s a popular snack consumed all over the island. Traditionally this snack is made with cod, haddock or wolffish and locals love to smother butter on top for an even tastier treat. This fish jerky is considered healthy as it’s high in protein. Pop into a grocery store to purchase the fish.
4. Skyr (Icelandic Yogurt)
Skyr dates back for over a thousand years in Icelandic culture. The best way to describe this product is that it’s a marriage in heaven between yogurt and cottage cheese. Some people claim Skyr tastes like cheese while others resoundingly say that it’s yogurt. You will have to decide for yourself. Having some of this Icelandic yogurt for breakfast with berries or cereal is a great way to kickstart the day. Or chuck some in a breakfast smoothie.
5. Rye Bread with Butter
Rye bread is a staple Icelandic food that is usually served with butter before meals or as a meal itself topped with salmon and cream cheese. Find the best local bakery in town to get a taste of this soft, spongy bread or pay a visit to the Laugarvatn Wellness Resort and Geothermal Bakery where the bread is baked buried next to a geyser. No matter how you choose to eat rye bread in Iceland, it will be a truly phenomenal experience.
Icelandic Food: 5 Best Food Tours
1. Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour
If you only have time for one tour in Reykjavik then this is it. With at least ten traditional foods to try, there is zero chance of going hungry on the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour. Walk around the city with a guide who knows the traditions behind each dish. Get insights into what the Vikings ate and learn how people survived harsh winters. This 5-star rated tour transports you into the past while bringing you up to date with modern eating habits.
2. Reykjavik Beer & Booze Tour
Beer-lovers will have a blast on the Reykjavik Beer & Booze Tour as guests bar hop to try one beverage after another. This tour makes for a great night out with your buddies where you can meet other travelers. There will be no shortage of alcohol to try because ten unique Icelandic craft beers are on the agenda or a tasting of five snaps for those who like it strong. Learn fun facts along the way like how Iceland banned beer for over 70 years.
3. Taste of Nature in West Iceland
For those who like to combine food with landscapes, you are in for a real treat on the Taste of Nature in West Iceland Tour. West Iceland is blessed with incredible nature like volcanic peaks, majestic waterfalls and jaw-dropping valleys. Savor these views by enjoying a delicious lunch consisting of fresh local produce and delicacies. You will even get to visit a farm to see how traditions of old combine with modern innovations.
4. How Skyr Is Made: A West Iceland Food Adventure
Visit the Erpsstadir Creamery where you can see how Skyr is made the traditional way. This family-run dairy farm milks cows under the best conditions. Taste the freshest Skyr in all of Iceland at this creamery, enjoy lunch at the farm restaurant and hike to the top of an ancient crater nearby. The How Skyr Is Made: A West Iceland Food Adventure lasts for eight hours in total and it will surely be a highlight of your Icelandic journey.
5. Cook and Dine – Icelandic Cooking Class
Rounding off the best food tours in Iceland is the Cook and Dine – Icelandic Cooking Class with Your Friend in Reykjavik. Chefs of all skill levels are welcomed to try their hand at cooking Icelandic cuisine. Be supervised by a real chef who will help you prepare and plate a gourmet meal. Sip on wine while you sample specialties like Atlantic wolffish, Arctic char, homemade rye bread and a few other delectable dishes.
Final Tip: Try Fermented Shark
You can’t come all the way to Iceland without trying fermented shark – what Anthony Bourdain called the most disgusting thing on earth. The reality is that Hakarl is not as bad as it sounds. Icelanders have been eating it for centuries because the long winters required innovative methods of preserving food. It turned into a delicacy but it’s not that widely consumed today. Try it on the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour if you would like.
Rest assured that tourists won’t try the most pungent version of fermented shark which is usually only eaten by older generations in Iceland. There are also some time-tested tactics that you can use to ensure you don’t gag in the process. Pinch your nose to stop the smell and wash it down with a shot of Brennivin (Icelandic alcohol). If you follow those strategies and only consume a little bit then you should be able to stomach it.
The stronger versions have been compared to a “urine filled mattress” but don’t worry the milder versions tend to be only faintly fishy. The texture is chewy and often it leaves a “memorable” aftertaste for a few hours. But apart from that, fermented shark is a fun experience that everyone should tick off their bucket list. Traveling is all about creating new stories to share with others – so why not try Hakarl and share the tale with your friends?